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Helping teenager decide on a career

How to help your teenager decide on a career

Published 9 Jan, 2023  ·  5-minute read

Stepping into the unknown after high school is scary. Your teen is probably more nervous than you are – even if they don’t show it. Here are some top tips on how to help your teenager decide on a career.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It used to be a cute question. But now that your child is a teen, they’re either sick of hearing it or terrified because they don’t have an answer. After all, it’s a lot of pressure to put on a 17-year-old who is about to leave the safety net of high school and take their first steps into adult life.

We know that, as a parent, helping your teenager choose a career is highly important to you. That’s why we’ve put together this practical guide for steering your teen towards choosing a career.

Take the pressure off

Nothing sounds scarier to a soon-to-be school leaver than being told they need to decide right now what they want to do for the rest of their life. Students leaving school often experience anxiety as they struggle to decide on a life plan. The expectation that teens should have it all figured out straight away is unrealistic and can be detrimental to their mental health.

Make it your responsibility to be a safe space for your teen. For example:

  • let them know there’s no pressure to choose one career and stick to it for the next 50 years
  • encourage them to dream big and remind them it’s likely they will have several careers over the course of their life
  • explain that it’s perfectly okay to defer, switch courses or change their degree and do something entirely new if they decide a few months or even years later that the program they chose isn’t for them.

Some teens worry that they’ll disappoint their parents if they don’t take a direct path to a perfect job. But the weight of the world doesn’t rest on their shoulders – and it’s your job to remind them of that. Career exploration for teens should be encouraged, without the pressure of looming expectations.

Share Jessie's story with your teen so they feel reassured knowing that sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the career they're passionate about.

Lead by example

Father and son in lecture hall

Even if your teen gives you single-syllable answers or spends most of the time in their room pretending you don’t exist, you’re still the first and most important role model in their life. Instead of jumping straight to how to help my teenager decide on a career, take some time to think about how your own work might be setting an example for them.

Teenagers are incredibly perceptive and will observe your relationship with your own work. Lead by example by building a career you love and doing it with passion and integrity. If they see you enjoying your work, they’ll know it’s possible to find something they enjoy too. (By the way, this is completely valid for stay-at-home parents too – you can display just as much joy and dedication as anyone with a corporate career.)

You’re never too old to do what you love and make a career out of it. Browse UQ’s programs and get inspired to go back to uni. Maybe you could dorm with your teen (just kidding).​​​​

Expose them to a variety of activities

Career exploration for teens can be a tough gig if they don’t know the possibilities. Set your teen up for success by giving them the opportunity to experience as many extracurricular activities as is feasible.

Whether it’s in the realm of sports, the arts, science, travel, animals, history or anything else, there are so many fields of interest for them to explore. Encourage them to:

  • visit museums
  • watch documentaries
  • go to the zoo
  • sign up for a sport they like
  • take a painting lesson
  • do anything and everything that helps broaden their horizons.
UQ students sit and stand, talking to one another in the RD Milns Antiquities Museum

Find out about how UQ can help your teen create a solid career path through work integrated learning and internship opportunities.

Help them identify their strengths

A key step in helping your teenager choose a career is assisting them to understand themselves.

As their parent, you instinctively know your teen and what areas they excel in. You’ll be able to help by reminding them what they do well, what circumstances they work best in, and what their skills and preferences are. All this information will help guide your teen through what sort of careers they might be best suited to.

Aim to guide your teen rather than directing them. Try to avoid making specific career suggestions, as this may cloud their vision of other options or cause them to feel boxed in.

It may also be beneficial for your teen to visit a career counsellor and to take some aptitude and personality tests. For example, while the 16Personalites test shouldn’t be taken as gospel, it does provide a handy record of your teen’s strengths (including suggestions for careers that might suit them well).

A UQ student sits with a tablet, chatting to a guidance counsellor about his career

There’s still time to make career decisions after you start at uni – this is something UQ’s student employability teams can help your teen with.

Questions to ask a teenager about their future

If your teenager doesn’t have an idea of what they want to pursue after high school, it’s important to keep an open dialogue with them and gently encourage them to think deeply about what they want to do with their life.

A great way to facilitate this is by asking thought-provoking questions about their future. By acting as a springboard for their ideas, you can spark inspiration around what career they want to pursue.

Some guiding questions to ask a teenager about their future include:

  • “Do you think about your future much and what aspects do you think about?” Ask open-ended questions that give your teenager a chance to reflect and share a generalised view.
  • “What are your dreams and aspirations?” Does your teenager already have goals in mind that they want to achieve? This could be related to careers, family, buying a home, travel – anything that’s important to them. These conversations will help them determine where their priorities lie.
  • “How big of a role do you want your work to play in your life?” Some individuals are suited to jobs that require a heavy number of hours each week. Others prefer a greater work/life balance and the ability to leave work at the door. Starting to think about how big a part of their life they want work to be will narrow down the options.
  • “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” This is a common question that gets asked in job interviews, but it can also help set the scene of where they want to end up.
  • “What activities do you do at the moment that give you energy?” Identifying what brings your teen to life could be the key to working out which industry areas they might find engaging.

By encouraging your teen to think about the future, they will hopefully start to develop a vision of what they want their life to look like and what they need to do to get there.

Helping your teenager choose a career is no easy feat. For more guidance, browse our events to see what career-focused sessions are currently on the horizon.

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